There’s no shortage of e-commerce systems, these days. I was asked recently to review one of the more popular ones – Shopify. I visited shopify.com and noticed they offered a free, 14-day trial.
Now, i’ve never used Shopify. I’ve been using the Miva Merchant e-commerce system for years, since 2000, and I really like it. In my opinion, Miva Merchant is where it’s at – the software, the support, the company.
I’m approaching Shopify from the perspective of someone that prefers another system, and knows nothing about Shopify but is familiar with common features and popular desires of shopping cart systems.
Let’s see if Shopify can impress me. I started my 14-day trial of Shopify and below are my notes and comments.
Shopify bottom line:
- (+) Quick and easy to set-up a basic Shopify e-commerce website
- (+/-) Adding a product was easy, but lacking some control or features
- (+) Lots of free or paid themes, and add-ons or extensions
- (+) Community forum looks good for support
- (-) Poorly written source code (bad for seo and page loading)
- (-) Limited discount/promotion/sales options
- (-) Limited Payment methods
- (-) Limited Shipping methods
- (-) Difficult if not impossible to edit code, such as customize a product page’s coding
- (+) PCI Compliant
- (+) Built-in Blog
1. View Shopify Store
Upon creating my 14-day free trial of the Shopify e-commerce platform, the first thing I thought I’d do is view my newly created store with the default theme. Let’s see what it looks like right out of the box. It looks plain, but that’s to be expected. As a website designer, I come across that often – a somewhat blank store or website, ready for me to do my work. Miva’s default theme is this same way.
I then grab the right side of my browser to make it narrower to see if the default theme is mobile-responsive, and it is. Having a mobile-responsive website these days is very important, so good for Shopify, there.
2. Source Code
Next, let’s view the source code. What’s underneath the hood of this thing. How is it written and in what language?
3. Theme Change
Moving-on, let’s change the look of the site. Right on the admin home page is a link to shop for themes. That’s convenient! I can browse for several free or paid themes and quickly install one. No downloading and uploading of files or scripts. With Miva, as of the date of this post, you have 3 ReadyThemes to choose from, all are free. You do have to download them, then upload them and activate them. Not really a big deal. It’s easy.
4. Adding a Product
The first thing I see when adding a new product is a text editor, similar to what you’d see in Word or WordPress. I can format my text with bold, change the size, add a link, and view the raw html. I like that. This is one feature I wish Miva had.
Scrolling down, I can add a price and my competition’s price, add a SKU number, select whether I’m going to charge sales tax or not for this product. I can select whether this product requires shipping or not, which is a nice option if you’re selling soft goods. Next, I can enter a weight, and turn on inventory and adjust the inventory level.
Below that is product attributes. Now, this is disappointing – it doesn’t give me the option to choose the type of attribute, such as radio button, checkbox, drop-down menu, text field, or text area. I wonder which type it will use when I click the Save button. (I can’t wait to see.) With Miva, I can choose between radio button, checkbox, drop-down menu, text field, or text area.
It does create inventory variants automatically, and I have the option to turn that off.
Uploading images is also a bummer. You can’t drag-n-drop multiple images for a mass upload. I’ll find a large image to see how it handles that. (He he.) The picture is 1200 pixels square. I’ll also upload a second one to see if it can handle multiple images, such as a front and back view. You can upload several images at once with Miva.
Next is an SEO section that has a space for page title and meta-description.
Lastly, there’s an option to hide the product or not. Maybe you’re not ready to go live with the product.
I’m eager to hit the Save button to see how my Unicorn Crest Short Sleeve Tee looks on my new Shopify site. I notice I can’t click on the product photo to see a larger version (bummer). It must be possible, as I’ve seen other Shopify stores with this feature. Maybe it’s an add-on or something. It does, however, show thumbnails of both the images I uploaded – front and back, and those are clickable. With Miva, when you upload 3 photos of the same product (front, back, side view), Miva will resize the images and link them all together for you. It’s really nice and a big time saver.
The attributes I created (Size and Color) are drop-down menus. (I wonder if that can be changed.)
I see social media links at the bottom. That’s nice. Social media is such a big part of people’s lives these days, and it really helps your SEO.
What e-commerce website doesn’t offer sales or promotions? Off-hand, I’m lead to believe dollar or percentage off, and free shipping are the only promotions I can offer with my trial Shopify storefront. Upon clicking the Add a Discount button, I see that’s exactly the case. That’s too bad. I can choose is the sale is for all orders, orders over a certain dollar amount, for a specific product, etc. I can also choose a start and ending date. That’s it. I do see lots of discount and sales extensions at apps.shopify.com, however. With Miva, right out of the box, you get Volume Pricing, Add-on Product, Basket Discount, Buy X Get Y, Product Discount, Specific Sale, and 2 Shipping Discounts (entire order or discounted products only).
6. Payment Methods
You can’t have an e-commerce website and not accept payments, multiple payment methods, really. I’m a little disappointed here, too. It appears Shopify Payments, PayPal Express, a few alternatives like Dwolla, and manual payments are my only options. With Miva, you get Simple Credit Cards, PayPal Express, PayPal Standard, PayPal Pro, Amazon Payments, Authorize.net, CHASE, COD, Check, CyberSource, First Data, and Intuit. Wow!
7. Shipping Methods
If you have tangible products, you’re going to need to ship them. Let’s checkout Shopify’s shipping method options. It looks a couple weight-based shipping rates have already been created – Heavy and Standard Shipping. I can easily edit those or create new ones.
Carrier-calculated shipping methods are also available, such as UPS, USPS, and FedEx. I, evidently, have to upgrade my plan to use those.
That’s it! Two shipping methods available out-of-the-box: Weight-based and Carrier-Calculated (or dynamic shipping rates). Visiting apps.shopify.com, I find lots of shipping extensions. Looking at Shopify.com, it appears you can’t use Carrier-Calculated shipping rates unless you’re on their $179/mo hosting plan! That stinks! With Miva Merchant, you can use dynamic shipping regardless of the hosting plan you’re on, and these other shipping methods: Base + Weight, Canada post, Endicia Shipping Labels, FedEx, Minimum or Weight Based, Price Based, Quantity Based, U.S.P.S. and U.P.S.
What’s support like? Where do you go if you have questions? Shopify has a community forum where you can post your questions or help someone else with theirs. Jumping into the “Payments, Shipping & Fulfillment” forum, it looks like questions are answered relatively quickly. e.g. same day or next day. That’s important – when you’re building your e-commerce website, you can’t wait days to get shipping set-up, for example. Going to docs.shopify.com, I found a Shopify manual and a search field where I can search for my problem or answer. A search for “customize checkout page” didn’t return any results. Neither did “customize product page”. Maybe that’s not in the manual.
9. Customizing Code
Working with the Miva Merchant shopping cart system, I got real used to editing any page I wanted to. If I wanted to wrap a conditional around something, I could. For example, if the inventory level for a product is zero, hide the Add to Cart button. So, to see if I could customize a product page or a checkout page, I searched the community forum for ‘customize page code’. I found one topic that was asked over a year ago, and no one responded. Someone else asked about customizing a list of collections. The response was “there’s no template to edit”. Other searches for ‘customize product page’ or ‘custom checkout page’ resulted in nothing or someone responding with ‘no, you can’t do that’. So, it appears you can’t edit page coding. Maybe someone at Shopify can do it, I don’t know.
10. Add-ons, Extensions, Plug-ins
It’s rare that an e-commerce system comes with everything you need, unless you have very simple needs. If you need to expand your Shopify-enabled website, they have an app store. Some apps are free, some are not. Some apps are built by Shopify, and some are not. Just looking at the Marketing section of their app store, there are several to choose from. Some are rated.
You can export and import products to/from csv. You can also import customers. I didn’t see an ‘export’ option, but this might be because there’s nothing to export.
12. Built-in Blog
“Content is King” is the mantra I’ve been hearing for years from the SEO and on-line marketing experts. One great way to have fresh content is to write blog posts. Having a built-in blogging system, means one less log-in.
13. PCI-DSS Compliant
PCI-DSS stands for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. It is a security standard for organizations that work with credit card companies, such as VISA, and MasterCard. Learn more at Wikipedia. If a hosting server is PCI DSS compliant, it means the website is secure and customers can trust them with their payment information.
On the Shopify.com website, I noticed they offer 4 hosting plans: $14/mo, $29/mo, $79/mo, and $179/mo. I’m disappointed here, too. You don’t get a few key features until you’re on their more expensive hosting plans. For example, real-time carrier shipping only comes on their $179/mo hosting plan. Abandoned cart recovery only comes with their $79/mo or higher hosting plans. With Miva Merchant, you get these features regardless of the hosting plan.
It has been interesting to build a Shopify storefront. It’s good to see what other e-commerce platforms can do, and not do. Compared to Shopify, I prefer Miva Merchant.